Scientists testing for drugs and other contaminants in U.K. freshwater shrimp made a surprising discovery — every single shrimp they tested came back positive for cocaine. Many of the shrimp also came back positive for ketamine and a banned pesticide known as fenuron.
According to NPR, environmental scientists at King’s College in London tested shrimp for contaminants and found illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals, and other unusual compounds in the shrimp they tested. The one standout is that they found cocaine in every single one of the 15 sites that they tested.
Not only was it universally present, but it showed up in a similar amount no matter where they tested, which indicates “widespread contamination.”
Emma Rosi, who is an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, spoke to NPR about similar research that she has done.
“Pharmaceuticals and personal care products and pesticides and these types of illicit drugs have been detected in surface waters all over the world, because when we use them, our waste isn’t always treated properly, and so they come out in rivers and streams,” she said.
“We detect these compounds in the environment because people use them, and the things that we use in our everyday lives end up getting into the environment,” she added. “What’s very worrying is we don’t know what the effects are, the ecological effects.”
The study also found lidocaine, which is a local anesthetic that some people use with cocaine. That was the second most common substance, but scientists also identified ketamine, alprazolam, and diazepam.
One of the scientists who worked on the study, Leon Barron, said that they were surprised to find such a regular amount of illicit drugs in sea life. While the researchers expected to find it in the more urban areas around London, they were shocked that it was just as common in rural areas.
They were also surprised to find the banned pesticide, which hasn’t been legal in years.
Scientists were unable to say whether these contaminants pose a health risk to most people because it depends on what the contaminant is, how much of it is present, and how much a person is exposed to it.
Rosi’s study revealed that larger animals who consume these smaller critters could possibly have much higher levels of the contaminants, up to 50 percent, which is similar to what would be prescribed to a human.
A separate study in the U.S. found amphetamines in sea life around Baltimore, and another study found oxycodone in mussels in Washington state.